On Thursday, during the traditional May annual mass at Fatima’s Sanctuary, Portugal, 83-year-old Pope Benedict XVI warned a nearly half a million strong crowd of the threat he believes same-sex marriage and abortion present to society. With a gay marriage bill waiting to be signed by Portugal’s president, his words have provoked an angry reaction from LGBT rights advocates.
From the New York Times:
FÁTIMA, Portugal — Pope Benedict XVI used a famous Portuguese shrine to the Virgin Mary on Thursday as a stage to denounce abortion and gay marriage, just days before Portugal is expected to join five European countries that have legalized same-sex weddings
In a speech here to Catholic social service groups, Benedict called for initiatives aimed at protecting “the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, help to respond to some of today’s most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good.”
He also said he expressed his “deep appreciation for all those social and pastoral initiatives aimed at combating the socioeconomic and cultural mechanisms which lead to abortion, and are openly concerned to defend life and to promote the reconciliation and healing of those harmed by the tragedy of abortion.”
Abortion has been legal in Portugal since 2007. The Pope’s call to arms to protect “the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman” has been interpreted by LGBT rights advocates as a pronounced attack on a gay marriage bill passed in January by Portugal’s minority Socialist government under Prime Minister Jose Socrates.
Despite fierce opposition from religious conservatives, the government rejected alternative proposals for civil partnerships and a referendum on gay marriage.
President Anibal Cavaco Silva, a practicing Catholic, has been skeptical of the bill’s legality and has yet to sign it into law.
From On Top Magazine:
In March, the president, a Catholic, forwarded four out of five of the bill’s articles to the Constitutional Court, setting aside a measure that prohibits gay adoption. He said he did so because he doubted the bill’s constitutionality, but refused to say why he did not include the article on adoption.
The court’s majority, however, ruled the four articles to be constitutional. By law, Cavaco Silva has 20 days from April 28 to make his decision.
Social Democrats – led by Prime Minister Jose Socrates – say they have the votes to override a veto.
Reacting to the Pope’s words, many LGBT rights groups have said that the Pope’s opposition to gay marriage is overinflated given larger issues currently facing the world, and have commented that his repeated rhetoric on the issue is damaging and derisive.
In December 2008, Benedict said that the blurring of gender roles as a result of things like gay marriage were threats to creation as serious as saving the rain forests and halting climate change.
With reference to the Pope’s latest comments, Peter Tatchel of the gay rights group OUTrage said:
“The Pope is fast losing all his sense of moral priorities. Compared to war, poverty and racism, gay marriage is a minor issue. It is not worthy of the Pope’s moral outrage. In a world filled with hate and violence, he should be encouraging love and commitment, not denouncing it.”
Similarly, a spokesman for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement told the Telegraph that the Pope’s condemnation was disproportionate:
“It is one thing to oppose gay marriage from religious convictions and another to make such a claim about it when you look at issues such as teenage pregnancy, sexual disease, drug abuse, world poverty and war. This is an appalling, unfounded and unjust claim. I do not really see on what basis he can say gay marriage is among the most dangerous challenges to society. It ignores real social evils the Church and others should be addressing with far greater urgency.”
On Thursday, the Pope also warned against the spread of secularism through Europe when he told bishops that it was necessary to have an “authentic witnesses to Jesus Christ… where the silence of the faith is most widely and deeply felt: among politicians, intellectuals, communications professionals who profess and who promote a monocultural ideal, with disdain for the religious and contemplative dimension of life.”
The Pope is due to visit Britain in September. A petition backed by the British National Secular Society and signed by 28,000 people was handed in to Downing Street earlier this year requesting that the cost of the Pope’s trip to Britain be paid by the Church rather than the UK taxpayer.
As recent commentaries have noted, while around 90 percent of Portuguese identify as Catholic, it is thought that only 20 percent actually go to church, and secularism is believed to be increasing at a rapid rate. As such, the signing of a gay marriage bill into law would be interpreted by many as being evidence of the Church’s waining influence in Portugal, something which the Pope seems to have been trying to guard against with Thursday’s appeal to traditional values.
What effect, if any, the Pope’s words will have on the president’s signing of the gay marriage bill remains to be seen. I’ll keep you updated as we near the deadline for presidential action on the legislation, but I wanted to ask if you agree that gay marriage is a minor issue? Have your say below.
Update – Monday, May 17: The Associated Press is reporting that President Anibal Cavaco Silva has opted to ratify the gay marriage bill. Read more here.